Fill Social Media With Lies
In the coming information war, offence is the best form of defence
All political parties must take this as a priority task: flood social media with fake, scurrilous, malicious propaganda against their rivals. In response, those attacked would expose these charges as scandalous misinformation. This process would educate the public at large that social media messages cannot be trusted without independent verification. In the absence of such education, Indian politics is at grave risk— of a massive misinformation campaign that would derail democracy at crucial times, such as just before a general election.
Powerful Propaganda Tool
Technology disrupts many things. It is commonplace that businesses, jobs and skills would change with technology. That technology and communications can empower the subaltern is something that plumbers looking for work, fishermen deciding which port to take their catch and boat to and farmers bargaining with bulk buyers about benchmarking their price against the price at the nearest market have demonstrated, armed with their mobile phones.
Technology is changing how members of social groups interact. This also people understand, in general. But when it comes to politics, people behave as if technology does not matter. At least, some people behave like that, while others, cannier, deploy technology to reap rich dividends in politics.
When radio first made its appearance, politicians who made use of commercial radio to communicate their message had a big edge over those who did not. Ditto for TV. The Internet’s advent made the gap between the tech-savvy campaigner and the luddite even wider. Mobile broadband is now poised to make the biggest change to the conduct of politics in the history of the world.
In his book, War Room, on the 2014 campaign that made Naredra Modi prime minister, Ullekh detailed the use of information technology adopted by the Modi campaign to organise events, make decentralised, local choice of topics for the leader to address at individual pit stops, identify potential voters and mobilise them and to deliver an appeal directly to every targeted voter. This is now in the public domain, and Prashant Kishor, who, along with Rajesh Jain and Arvind Gupta, orchestrated the information technology part of the campaign, is now spreading this capability across the non-BJP political spectrum.
Military theorists excel at finding better ways to fight the last battle. Real world generals who pulverize the enemy always know that the next war will be different and wage their battles differently. In politics, the next battlefront is social media.
Its effect was evident in the case of JNU and its student leader, Kanhaiya. Half of India is convinced that Kanhaiya led the student community in shouting anti-national slogans. Fake videos and fake commentary spread intensely on social media played a huge role in this piece of successful propaganda. It helped that mainstream media, specifically, television channels that should have known better, aired doctored videos and created a chauvinistic discourse based on misinformation.
A foretaste of the mischief that social media is capable of was available in the 2013 Muzzafarnagar riots. Pictures of dead bodies lined up in horrendously long and chillingly orderly rows were circulated on Whatsapp to spread rage and hatred. That the pictures related to a different spatial and temporal zone did not detract from the impact these images had.
Guard Against Misuse
The prosperous Jats of western Uttar Pradesh had access to phones that could sport Whatsapp back in 2013. Since then, the population of smartphones has grown by leaps and bounds. All forecasts of the likely size of the smartphone market in India by 2019 project a huge rise in smartphone usage. All of them underestimate the likely share of the smartphone market.
Phone prices have been falling sharply. And the trend is likely to continue, just at the level of hardware manufacture. The coming inten- se competition for 4G services that Jio is expected to unleash is likely to see handsets being subsidised by telecom operators, to boot. The .₹ 500 per month cost of mobile telephony that Reliance introduced in 2003 was the turning point in India’s telecom history. Similar strategies might be inevitable, if Jio wants to draw in customers who already are subscribers of other service providers.
In China, the share of smartphones went up from 20% of all phones in use to 80% in just two years, said the head of Lenovo while in India. There is no reason to believe that by 2019 that will not be the share of smartphones in India as well. Most voters would have access to mobile broadband and a variety of social media apps, and would spend an appreciable amount of time on these.
These apps’ potential for abuse is immense. How to prevent that is a challenge for all.
Offence is the best form of defence, in this case. There is no point waiting for a wave of fake images and malicious misinformation to suffuse social media and then going on a clarification spree. Strike first.
Better to have tweeted and lost than never to have tweeted at all